The middle of June is May Week. The calendric ambiguity only adds to the zigzags of partygoers heading to bed at eight in the morning. Most of the Cambridge’s 31 colleges host a formal ball after examinations, to celebrate their students’ accomplishments with champagne, dancing, fabulous amounts of food, and often fireworks. Like a workday turned inside out, May Balls start at sunset and end after sunrise.
This morning, walking northward through town, I was careful where I stepped. I only hopscotched across one sidewalk retching (I avoided the winding alleys) on my way to Castle Hill. This is the high point of the city, a hillock of earth above the river, which was once a castle, then a jail, and later the command post for Cromwell’s Eastern Association. But by now buildings have been gone for centuries, with many of the stones sold to colleges like Emmanuel and Magdalen for their own structures. Instead of a fortress, the hill is a good lookout to admire the steeples and treetops.
Seeing as it was early in the morning, I thought I would have the view to myself. Halfway up the wide stone steps, though, I could hear voices at the top. There was a gaggle of May Ball survivors smoking on the edge of the mound, lounging before the high grass started. Black ties loosened, velvet blazers open, high heels long since abandoned. In the cool air, I listened to their posh but drunk conversations as I scanned the city. “It’s half past seven,” one of the women said. And then, in the same breath, “let’s get empanadas!” Only on Castle Hill could that be charming.
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